Commencement 2017

…I see my friends here before me, and I feel a deep sense of gratitude as I am flooded with memories of the times we’ve shared.  Although my personal recollections are probably a little different from yours, one thing is for sure:  We’re all very lucky to have had such transformative relationships with our teachers, and to have benefited from such invaluable opportunities to learn.  This, indeed, is St. Luke’s.   

                         – Luke Martocchio, St. Luke’s Salutatorian 2017, Attending Harvard

 

In his impeccable address, Salutatorian Luke Martocchio captured the spirit of Commencement—a time to reflect and enjoy a flood of memories—before the next journey and new memories begin.

I referenced Luke’s “stratospheric GPA” and “the quality of his intellect” when introducing him. But as we listened to him celebrate his teachers—from Mrs. Olsen in fifth grade through a host of Middle and Upper School faculty—we knew Luke’s greatest asset is his huge heart.

Awe-inspiring “intellectual prowess and acumen” describe Valedictorian Grace Zaro. As I cautioned the Commencement audience: “Do not be fooled by her casual demeanor.  This is a scholar who combines innate brilliance with both discipline and a fiercely intense focus.  In high school this has brought her to valedictory heights.  At Stanford and beyond, the sky seems the limit.”

Gracie gave a provocative address. She used “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” protagonist Randle Patrick McMurphy to demonstrate humor is not a cop out:  “When a situation is hard or frustrating, it is the little one-liner, the ability to self deprecate, that makes the fight easier. Humor is not a cop out, it is an advanced defense mechanism. Think about it: it is free, it is legal, it is harmless. It is your opponent’s worst nightmare.”

Class of 2017

Each year, I marvel at the skills of our young speakers and the intense emotional impact of this day. When will I become desensitized? Never, I suspect. It’s an honor to send these wonderful people out into the world. And a beautiful sorrow to bid them farewell. Below is from my Commencement farewell:

“Whatever you achieve in your lives, remember to seek out communities like this one.  Places that offer you connection, the feeling of rootedness, and the timeless values that St. Luke’s has.  We live in a time of constant change, of uncertainty about what the future will hold for us…or ask of us…and of relentless questioning of what many of us considered timeless truths for most of our lives.

As any great skipper will tell you, your moorings matter.  Without that safe harbor, that tether to something stable and comforting, that thing to which you can cling when storms seem otherwise overwhelming – without that, moving forward feels scarier and more difficult.

Soon – at college and throughout your life – you will face tough choices, in new communities and in unfamiliar cultures.  You might encounter a fraternity brother or sorority sister who wants you to drink yourself into oblivion, to prove…who-knows-what.  Maybe it will be a roommate – or a boss – who seems to lack a sense of honor.  Whatever the circumstance…remember us.  Remember St. Luke’s, and all the people who love you.  Remember that here you have constructed a strong moral compass…within yourself.  It’s there.  Use it.  Whenever you feel untethered, remember St. Luke’s.”

Enjoy this Commencement 2017 Photo Gallery (we’ll keep adding photos so check back).

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

Taking the Lead on Mindfulness

Just over a year ago, I wrote this blog post about the benefits of mindfulness.  I was fairly new to meditation and yoga but increasingly excited about the possibilities—for myself and St. Luke’s.

Since then, I’ve continued to practice and study data around mindfulness. Even more compelling than the science, however, are the people I’ve encountered. Once tapped into mindfulness, a network of kindred spirits began to appear—each with a tale of improved focus, presence and capabilities.

One such spirit, Erika Long,  is St. Luke’s parent. Erika and Will Heins—both former Wall Street warriors—along with Michelle and Nick Seaver (featured in the aforementioned blog ) could not find a secular meditation group locally, so they created one. In May of 2014, New Canaan’s Community Mindfulness Project (CMP) launched.

Just three years later CMP is thriving. Over 6,000 people have attended sessions (including me). This make it happen spirit inspired me to take the lead and create a    St. Luke’s mindfulness event. Thanks to my incredible team, the CMP and The Spence School, The Mindfulness in Education Conference will come to life on June 10, 2017.

In an unbelievable stroke of good fortune, Susan Bauer-Wu, President of the Mind & Life Institute will be our keynote speaker. There will be something valuable for anyone interested in how mindfulness prepares the mind for learning.

All parents and faculty of Fairfield and Westchester independent schools are welcome to attend. I cannot wait and hope you will join us.

P.S. Recommended reading: One Second Ahead, The Mindful Leader, Real Happiness

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

Scholars Symposium 2017

“If Blues Band is the day in the fall when I feel most happy and proud of our community, the Scholars Symposium is that day in the spring for me. I realize what good hands our futures are in when I hear these incredible students sharing their knowledge, ideas, and passion with such remarkable poise and conviction.”

                                                                              -Liz Perry, Head of Upper School

Liz took the words right out of my mouth. Blues Band and Scholars Symposium bookend the school year spectacularly. And I know why: both events leave you in a bit of awe.  You know you’ve witnessed something truly exceptional.

St. Luke’s Scholars 2017

An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.

St. Luke’s Scholars are the School’s mission come to life. Listen as a teenager educates the room about Infectious Disease in West Africa, or Genetic Luminescence, or Damnatio memoriae in the Roman Empire…it’s the epitome of deep learning.

These students become experts and that’s learning that lasts. When you develop a topic, execute a research plan, put forth a thesis, draft an extensive research paper and present your findings in public—I can promise you, it’s something you will remember forever.

Last year, my daughter Sarabeth worked on her Global Scholars project. She studied healthcare and nursing in India. I saw firsthand how a student moves from passionate but fairly superficial understanding of a topic to deep understanding. For Sarabeth, progress came through research, questioning, writing, rewriting and translating her findings into something meaningful for an audience. P.S. She’s studying to be a nurse.

In a few weeks, videos of the Scholars presentations will go online. I’ll share and urge you to watch a few. I bet you’ll find yourself thinking “This is exceptional.”

 

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

Groundbreaking News (Literally)

 

What’s better than sharing good news?

Today I had the pleasure of speaking with students about the new Arts and Humanities Wings coming in the Fall of 2018. We gave students a heads up about groundbreaking before March break, but wanted to explain the new addition in the context of our  vision for St. Luke’s. As I said to students today:  “The world changes so fast and we want to make sure you have a campus and spaces that fuel and inspire learning.”

Addressing the Upper School

 

General Reaction: Smiles

Lead architect Jim Rogers joined our student meetings. Jim shared images of the project and illuminated why space matters. He also outlined three goals of the new addition:

  1. We wanted to create light, bright, open spaces with a lot of flexibility in the layout. The ideal is to  that students come into a space and make it their own. Whatever the activity, we want the work areas to be comfortable, appealing and user-friendly.
  1. The new design brings the Art Department into the fold. The distance between art and the rest of the school can be a roadblock to the arts working with other disciplines—for example a collaborative history and art project. We wanted to eliminate this physical and mental distance between art and the rest of the school.
  1. Creation of a Humanities Wing gives English and History a new space and more of the collaborative, flexible spaces seen in the Science Wing. With all our core departments in the main building, the School will be united. And just as the Science Wing clearly announces to visitors that St. Luke’s values the sciences—the new wings will send the same message about the Arts and Humanities.

Jim Rogers Talking with Middle School

More Smiles from Middle School

 

As Jim and I pointed out to students, achieving these goals brings another major benefit:  St. Luke’s will have distinct Upper and Middle Schools. Right now, the Upper and Middle Schools share classrooms and that requires shared schedules. It’s long been a desire to have enough space for each school to design classes and schedules around what’s best for students. Once these buildings are complete, that vision too will be a reality.

Earlier in the week, St. Luke’s Trustees gathered to lend the construction crew a hand. Take a look to see how that went…

 

SJLS: Curious Leaders

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”

Samuel Johnson

 

We are all born curious. And if lucky…our curiosity grows.

Tapping our students’ innate desire to know more about each other and the world around us—that is the inspiration behind the Social Justice Leadership Summit (SJLS).

I attended the SJLS in 2014 and wrote: “In more than thirty years as an educator, I have never participated in an event that built as much trust, or inspired as much faith and hope as the SJLS.” Nearly three years later, the SJLS continues to thrive. There were 35 students and faculty the year I attended. This year (January 28, 2017), there were sixty.

Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, Director of Inclusive Excellence & Leadership, describes the SJLS to students this way: “SJLS is a one day leadership retreat where you will explore your own personal identities, learn about perspectives different from your own, and most importantly seek commonalities with classmates. With all the divisions in our world right now, we should all be working a little harder to find commonalities.”

The SJLS is also a catalyst for student leadership, as Dr. Bramlett points out: “Two years ago students put together ideas that inspired the launch of my new American Cultural History class. Last year, students saw a need for more diversity programs in Middle School and this year, those same students will run a Middle School workshop called Ally Afternoon. Another idea that students made a reality is “Dive-Ins” where students host conversations and welcome diverse perspectives. They don’t just talk. They take action.”

I’m particularly enthusiastic about the Dive-Ins because they foster civil discourse—an essential leadership skill.  Topics have included Colin Kaepernick’s controversial protest of the national anthem and a Dive In about students’ hopes and fears around the new president. More than 50 students have dived in to tough, important conversations.

My hope is to have a student or two share reflections from this weekend’s summit. The positive anticipation leading up to this weekend was palpable. According to Dr. Bramlett, senior Matthew Lindsay best captured the pre-summit excitement: “It’s going to be lit!”

I’m pretty sure that’s good 🙂

St. Luke’s is a private independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: an exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit!

Visionaries on the Hilltop

This is the second in our Visionaries on the Hilltop series. See first post.

Earlier this week, St. Luke’s Board of Trustees gathered to listen and learn. We had the rare opportunity to hear about an incredible moment in business history—directly from the history makers:  Aris Kekedjian and Dan Janki.

Aris, a St. Luke’s parent, leads General Electric’s Mergers & Acquisitions/Business Development Team and Dan, a former SLS parent (prior to relocating to Atlanta), is senior vice president of GE and the Treasurer of GE and GE Capital. The two recently led GE’s unprecedented and highly-publicized sale of $260 billion in financial assets.

Bloomberg called their initiative “The most sweeping transformation in General Electric Co.’s 123-year history,” and hailed “the speed and shrewd bargaining behind one of the boldest corporate overhauls ever.” (Monty Python to Project Hubble)

I asked Aris and Dan to address our board and administrators because as Aris said, “This is a story of leadership. This is a story of teamwork.”  While St. Luke’s and GE are not peers, we share a focus on excellence and innovation. Learning from other industries is one way St. Luke’s stays ahead of the curve and facing the future.

Aris Kekedjian (left) and Dan Janki at Board Meeting

Aris Kekedjian (left) and Dan Janki at St. Luke’s Board Meeting

 

As expected, the night contained valuable leadership lessons. My favorites …

Move Fast: “Speed is everything” said Aris. Dan added: “When you move quickly and people start seeing results, confidence and momentum build.”

Be Transparent: Originally the pair thought they could move faster if only a small group knew the plan. In Dan’s words, “We soon learned that when everybody has the same information,  it empowers the heck out of them. Good things happen.”

Have Mission Clarity: The two agree this is the most vital element of their success. Per Aris: “The first lesson in life is that things don’t go as they should. But if your mission is clear, you can triumph.”

I am awed and enriched by the leaders among us at St. Luke’s. Thank you Aris & Dan.

P.S. Aris shared his leadership insights with students this fall as part of the Center for Leadership Lunch & Lead series.

 

State of the School 2016

“I’d been told that the State of the School evening was not to be missed. That’s certainly an understatement. My wife Meghan and I walked out of the building and we both were virtually speechless. Truly, I’m at a loss for words to express what a fantastic, inspirational evening it was. Best I can do is, simply, wow! I’m sure there are more eloquent ways to say it, but that one unsophisticated word seems to say it all.

—St. Luke’s Parent, Christopher Rosow

Many years ago, someone asked me: “What’s the goal of the State of the School?” I answered: “To make sure every parent feels informed and leaves thinking—I’m so happy we chose St. Luke’s.”

When I receive a note like the one above, I think mission accomplished. This year, the St. Luke’s mission was front and center as Board Chair Bob Wyckoff and I—along with several guest speakers—presented Living the Mission. It was the first State of the School to feature student speakers and as you might ascertain from Christopher’s comment, they were a big hit.

My thanks to these poised, articulate students, to the Jazz Band and their leader, Bob Leinbach, who sent us into the night still buzzing from their electric performance, and to Co-Chairs Barb Clayton and Michelle Diliberto whose parent team once again executed a truly exceptional dinner celebration.

If you missed it…

SOS blog-Sam INSPIRICA

Click to view slides and photos from the State of the School 2016.

Visionaries on the Hilltop

Some of the most forward-thinking minds in the fields of technology, finance, education, and politics have or will soon be on the Hilltop—visiting, inspiring debates and sharing theories that resonate across campus.

David Pakman addresses St. Luke's Board

David Pakman addresses St. Luke’s Board

Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist David Pakman, a St. Luke’s parent and Board member, spoke to trustees about “Technology, the Future, and Us.” David, a partner at Venrock, specializes in researching and predicting the future. We sat riveted as he covered everything from driverless cars (much sooner than you think) to artificial intelligence. The big take-away: St. Luke’s investment in STEM curriculum is well placed as professionals of the future—regardless of chosen fields—need a firm grasp on how their digital world works.

David arranged for John Katzman to share his insights into the future of education with our board. John,  a well-known educationalist, is currently CEO of The Noodle Companies. He also founded and served as the CEO of The Princeton Review, the SAT prep company, and created 2U, an educational technology company. John shared provocative ideas about the future of independent schools and their need for increased technological sophistication.

Our faculty and Board had a private screening of the Sundance Film selection Most Likely To Succeed and a discussion with the education consultant for the film Stephanie Rogen, a leadership expert and St. Luke’s Board member.

 

Gareth Fancher, Liz Perry, Julie Lythcott-Haims and Mark Davis

Gareth Fancher, Liz Perry, Julie Lythcott Haims and Mark Davis

Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the best-selling book How to Raise an Adult , spoke last week to faculty, students and parents. Her core message, which clearly resonated with all audiences: “We have to deliberately put opportunities for independence in our kids way.”

St. Luke’s parent Aris Kekedjian, GE Head of M&A/Business Development, spearheaded the sale of roughly $200 billion of GE Capital assets in a whirlwind 18-month period that helped strategically position GE as a more nimble industrial company.  In this year’s first Lunch and Lead sponsored by the Center For Leadership, Mr. Kekedjian delivered a tour de force of leadership lessons gleaned from his personal and business experiences to thirty-five students and several faculty members.

On September 27, the day after the first Presidential debate, Ari Fleischer, St. Luke’s parent and former White House press secretary, will speak to grades 8-12 about the election. In addition to sharing his thoughts on the campaigns and the issues at stake, Mr. Fleischer will respond to questions from our students.  Yes, you can bet I plan to be a fly on that wall.

Wow. These thinkers bring to the Hilltop much more than just their expertise. They bring their ideas. And they bring their questions.

How can schools stay relevant and sustainable in the crush of new information and network technology? How do we encourage a love of learning, not merely a quest for achievement? How do we provide an exceptional education—one that lights up each student’s curiosity and leadership qualities—while thriving in the competitive world of standardized tests and college admissions? How do we, as a country in 2016, elect our next President, and how do we talk with students about the controversial nature of this year’s campaign? (See my “Hamilton” Meditation for more on those last questions).

It’s electrifying, a bit daunting, and the perfect challenge for a community full of people who love to learn. What an exciting time and how fortunate that St. Luke’s has visionaries from whom we can learn.

 

St. Luke’s Success

Many very different people make up the St. Luke’s community. Yet, without exception, we share a common goal: we want our children to be successful now and in the future.

I think a lot about success. I’m fascinated by how hard it is to define. Its meaning changes—like a chameleon—with every use.  For some it brings to mind wealth or fame. For others, it might include a strong family life or contentment.

At St. Luke’s, we measure our success by our mission—instilling a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead. That, to borrow from Head of Upper School Liz Perry, is what gets us up in the morning.

St. Luke’s interpretation of success defines us. It keeps our ladder leaning up against the right wall. Learning, stretching, becoming compassionate, confident, intellectually and emotionally well-rounded people. Those words have the ring of St. Luke’s success.

One does not have to look far for examples..

Such as twenty senior scholars sharing a year’s worth of hard-earned knowledge during the Scholars Symposium. Students boldly took on topics such as: The Role of the Internet in a Free and Closed Society, The International Oil Conflict, The Effectiveness of Commerce-Based Philanthropy in Combating Global Poverty and Setting the Stage for Augustus, Rome’s First Emperor.

Such as Middle School students working in mixed-grade teams to design an interactive sculpture for our science wing. Our designLab launched the Finding da Vinci challenge during a Middle School assembly. Students were confident, curious and creative. They collaborated, built prototypes on the fly and “pitched” ideas. They embraced the process of trial and error, and felt the triumph of figuring it out.

On the Hilltop, we see success in glorious art on our walls, professional performances on our stages, and the sportsmanship that defines our playing fields. We see it in a young writer reading a personal story, beautifully crafted and expressed. And we see it at the COLT Poetry Contest—the Connecticut  Super Bowl of language competitions—where St. Luke’s students took first place in five categories.

Even more indelibly, we see St. Luke’s success in the reflections of a 9th grade girl who learns something about herself, the world and her capacity to make a difference:

I have just left the two hour J-Term showcase, and I have a feeling of accomplishment that I have rarely had throughout my life. I have always thought that the feeling of getting a challenging test back with the big red A on the front was one of the best feelings you could have at a school. However, right now, I realize that I was wrong. After the J-Term showcase, I feel that I have professionally pitched an organized idea that does true good for the world…Doing a week of hard core research on this topic has truly opened my eyes to the world around me. Before this week, I considered poverty to be an issue that was more prevalent in other states or countries. However, this week I learned that poverty is a much more local issue than I thought. This topic is so sad to think about, and I really learned a lot about myself this week. I think I realized that I should be less ignorant toward the issue of poverty and try to do more to help.

What does success mean to you? I’d like to know. Share your thoughts using the comment feature on this page—or write to me directly at davism@stlukesct.org.

 

                            

No Unicorns

Mindfulness is not going to solve your problems. It’s not going to render your life a nonstop parade of unicorns and rainbows. Nonetheless, this is a superpower.

– News Anchor Dan Harris,  Why Mindfulness is a Superpower

I love this statement from Dan Harris. It pokes fun at the “feel good” aspects of mindfulness without diminishing its tremendous potential. The superpower Harris refers to is focus. Mindfulness helps quiet and calm the mind. Sounds simple, but consider the firehose of distractions at work, school and home. Learning to focus, despite the cacophony, is an invaluable skill.

“Meditation—more than anything in my life—was the biggest ingredient of whatever success I’ve had.”  

– Bridgewater Associates Founder, Ray Dalio

I began practicing yoga and meditation about fourteen months ago. I’d read a lot about CEOs—such as former St. Luke’s parent Ray Dalio—who employ meditation to manage stress and improve performance. Dalio was interviewed at Georgetown University’s meditation center and explained that meditation “opens my mind and relaxes me…it gives me an ability to look at things without the emotional hijacking, without the ego, in a way that gives me a certain clarity.”

Like Dalio, Nick and Michelle Seaver had life-altering meditation experiences. You can learn more about their journey in How Meditation Changes a Go-Go-Go Couple and Nick’s TEDx video The Gift of Silence. Nick will co-host the March 5, Fathers & Friends Breakfast with me. Our topic: How Mindfulness Makes You A Better Parent, Partner & Leader will touch on our personal experiences and the growing body of research behind the mindfulness movement.  Register for Fathers & Friends

At St. Luke’s, we’re exploring ways to bring mindfulness into our school day. With benefits that include lower anxiety, greater resilience, and increased focus, incorporating mindfulness seems like a no brainer (pun intended).

I’ll leave you with links to some worthwhile articles. Please share your reactions, ideas, and experiences. Use the comments feature on this page—or send me an email.

 

New York Times: The Hidden Price of Mindfulness

The Atlantic: How Mindfulness Could Help Teachers & Students

CNN: Calming the Teenage Mind in the Classroom

NYT: How Meditation Changes the Brain & Body

TedX: Neuroscientist Sara Lazar on Meditation & Brain Growth

Mindful: How the Brain Changes When You Meditate

Harvard Business Review: Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain

Forbes: Why the World’s Best Leaders Want to Meditate on It

Harvard Business Review: Why Google-Target- And General Mills Are Investing in Mindfulness

Harvard Business Review: How Meditation Benefits CEOs

Bloomberg: To Make a Killing on Wall Street Start Meditating

Mindful: Free Mindfulness Apps

 

Opening Eyes

This week I turn my space over to Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, St. Luke’s Director of Diversity & Student Life…

“Does my office always look like this?”

This was my first thought as I walked into my office on Monday morning. The brightly colored handouts strewn about the floor, post-it notes plastered to every surface, and hastily scribbled ideas on the dry-erase board, made it look like creative genius had exploded.  As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and sipped my coffee—I smiled.  It has been a busy month at St. Luke’s.

The St. Luke’s community works hard to ensure all members are able to be themselves— regardless of race, gender, financial aid status, family structure, or learning difference.  This is how we envision our school.  This busy January, it was clear our students have the courage and character to do the hard work of building an inclusive community.

A few weeks ago, the Student Diversity Leadership Council led a meeting to train faculty on how to facilitate difficult conversations.  Faculty used these skills in an upper school conversation about the “N-Word”  The objective of the conversation was not to police language or tell people what to think, but rather to open an honest dialogue about the intent and impact of language.

In the last week of January, our 9th graders participated in J-Term, a five day long project-based learning experience themed, “Our Shrinking World.”  The 9th graders’ task was to design a community service project that tackled a local manifestation of a global social injustice.  Our whole community was invited to attend an exhibition where the 9th grade project groups pitched their service idea and the whole community voted on which service project we would do.

During the exhibition of project ideas, students enthusiastically called me over to explain the social injustice they had studied and tell me about their plan for restoring justice.  The two winning projects were from the Poverty and Gender Equity groups. The Gender Equity group’s service idea was to engage the whole upper school in a conversation about gender equity.  Our children are eager to talk about social justice issues and we are committed to finding the time and space for them to have these conversations.  

Social Justice Leadership Summit 2016

Social Justice Leadership Summit 2016

On January 31st, the third annual SLS Social Justice Leadership Summit and Ally Workshop boasted a record number of participants.  Forty-four students and nine faculty facilitators gathered for a day of learning about  race, class, gender, ability, religion, and other social and core identities.  In an epic fourteen-hour day, we shared perspectives, learned from one another, and brainstormed ideas for making SLS an even more inclusive community.

Sophomore, Kate Stamoulis comments, “I had never been a part of something so meaningful, and I can definitely say that it was indeed life changing.  I feel as though I have really found a passion for social justice, and it has opened my eyes to so many things about our world.”

We are teaching students how to articulate their perspectives and how listen to someone else’s perspective.  We are asking them to become scholars of their own epistemology and to think about why they think what they think.  In conversations about our differences, we are teaching students how to find common ground and shared understandings.  

In Mark Davis’s Unafraid blog, he said “There is nothing more valuable than teaching our children to think, debate, and learn from one another.”  Seeing our students’ eagerness to dive into tough issues and make a difference in their world…put that smile on my face.

 

 

 

Time Well Spent

Here we go. Tomorrow we head out for winter break. Some will travel, some will staycation. I hope all of us will relax.

The arrival of 2016 marks a new year of life. As we sip our champagne or sparkling cider, we’ll reflect: Where has the time gone? Are we spending our precious hours wisely?

I began reflecting early (actually, I’m not sure I can stop reflecting), and was rewarded by research affirming St. Luke’s investment in Diversity and exploration of Mindfulness.

Diversity Makes You Brighter reinforces St. Luke’s commitment to a genuinely inclusive, respectful, school environment for all. No easy task, but worth every awkward, messy, moment and difficult conversation. Worth the frustrations and pain that are part and parcel of this work.  As the professors who authored the piece observe:

Diversity improves the way people think. By disrupting conformity, racial and ethnic diversity prompts people to scrutinize facts, think more deeply and develop their own opinions. Our findings show that such diversity actually benefits everyone, minorities and majority alike…Ethnic diversity is like fresh air: It benefits everybody who experiences it.

On the Mindful front, the Harvard Business Review has me eager to ramp up St. Luke’s early work in this area. How Meditation Benefits CEOs features executives who meditate to hone leadership skills. The author references expanding research suggesting “meditation sharpens skills like attention, memory, and emotional intelligence.”

Mindfulness can literally change your brain, cites a multitude of studies indicating  meditators “demonstrate superior performance on tests of self-regulation, resisting distractions and making correct answers more often than non-meditators.” They also learn from past experience which improves decision-making. The authors continue:

These findings are just the beginning of the story. Neuroscientists have also shown that practicing mindfulness affects brain areas related to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, introspection, complex thinking, and sense of self. While more research is needed to document these changes over time and to understand underlying mechanisms, the converging evidence is compelling.

Are we spending our precious hours wisely? Yes, I say gratefully, we are.

Happy Holidays St. Luke’s.

More Masterful Meditations

St. Luke’s Mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.

Last post featured Jim Foley’s Meditation. I said it was one of the best I’d ever heard. Doug Lyons, the Executive Director of CAIS, watched it and left a comment on this blog:

You “took my breath away” Jim. Important message – powerfully, artistically delivered. So proud to have you in the CT CAIS family. 

Love to you and the St. Luke’s community.

Shortly after reading Doug’s comment, I listened to Frank Henson deliver an outstanding Meditation. In fourteen minutes, his story (and magnificent story telling) brings the meaning of a strong moral compass to life.

On a similar, mission-focused note, Liz Perry masterfully turns up love of learning and turns down the pressure on her Upper School listeners. She tells of a morning, many years ago, when she did the unthinkable and overslept for an important test—shattering her grade and her self-image. Told with humor, the message of self-love and acceptance is invaluable.

My deepest gratitude to these exceptional educators. Give a listen; these are wonderful lessons for students of any age.

 

 

  

Let’s Get This Right: Raising Healthy Children

Last week I referred to an excellent piece by NAIS President John Chubb entitled Thinking About Emotion.  I hope you read it, because it describes in a most thoughtful way a central challenge facing schools, parents, and everyone who cares about young people: the alarming rates of anxiety and depression among our children.

Last year, the World Health Organization released a report calling depression the number one cause of illness and disability in teenagers and pre-teens worldwide.  In 2010, Psychology Today reported that five to eight times as many high school and college students exhibit symptoms of “major depression and/or an anxiety disorder” than teenagers of fifty years ago.

In the face of such alarming trends, it should give us pause to hear Mr. Chubb say “We know far more about how to teach reading and mathematics than how to promote emotional growth and happiness.”  While this statement rings true, I hope neither educators nor parents will relent in seeking better outcomes for our children.  After all, what good are great academic and college placement resumes if we produce young people with neither the non-IQ skills that correlate with professional success nor the emotional well being to lead healthy, productive lives?

Recently, a high school student in Palo Alto, California wrote this powerful essay for her local newspaper.  In it, she describes the destructive impact of constant high expectations and the achievement culture reinforced by school and parents.  Honesty compels us to admit that we live in a similar environment here in Fairfield County.  But even if we didn’t, we should take seriously the likelihood that our children experience the same pressures and the same emotional risks as middle and high school students across America.

And don’t we—parents, schools—know a few things about how to promote emotional growth and happiness?  I think we know a lot, but we find it difficult to do what we know breeds healthy, happy kids. We fear that doing those things will lower their test scores, enable others to garner the limited places in highly selective colleges, and weaken our competitive advantage.  But getting this right could mean the difference between raising healthier generations or worsening the rates of adolescent depression and anxiety.  In the end, will we re-prioritize?  Will we implement new practices that support children’s wellbeing?  Or will we rely on conventional practices, unreasonable achievement expectations, success measured by test scores and college admissions, and other approaches that seem to do children so much emotional harm?

We don’t need to drive kids crazy to educate them. Given freedom and opportunity, without coercion, young people educate themselves. They do so joyfully, and in the process they develop intrinsic values, personal self-control, and emotional wellbeing.”  

This excerpt from Psychology Today points to something our faculty has observed (and been thrilled by): Give students more control over learning and they are more motivated. They find work that they influence more rewarding, valuable, and enjoyable. We’ve seen this for years in our Scholars and Independent Study programs. We’ve seen it in many individual teacher’s classrooms (think of Nancy Sarno’s art classes where students are pushed to explore and trust their instincts).  But recently, we’ve had opportunities to see it on a larger scale. And we like what we see.

This year’s J-Term offers a powerful example. The entire ninth-grade participated and as one student said: “J-Term is really your journey, and you choose what you’re going to get out of it.” What teachers got out of it was deep satisfaction as young students embraced responsibility for meaningful learning. These children were ready to collaborate and plan. Ready to research and interview and reflect. Ready to knock our collective socks off at the final symposium.

designLab Director Michael Mitchell has a name for the joy and investment found in self-directed work: Hard Fun.* He sees it in his engineering courses where students learn through a “mastery” approach—moving forward at their own pace as they master concepts. He sees it in St. Luke’s various maker activities, and school-wide, optional experiences such as our Hackathon, and Rube Goldberg events—where students work tirelessly, not for a grade, but for pure pleasure.

Certainly “hard fun” is not the single antidote to student angst and depression. But ideas for educating without driving kids crazy certainly merit our attention.

As always, it takes a village to care for our children. I welcome your thoughts on this important topic. Please share your views using the comment button (just click on the speech bubble icon just right of the headline) or send me an email: davism@stlukesct.org

*From Seymour Papert’s Hard Fun

UPDATE This very relevant piece just in from the NYTimes: When the culture expects “uber-excellence,” kids suffer, and even die: “Push, Don’t Crush, the Students”

A March Reflection

Over the break I took a quick glance at the superb “News & Views” page of the St. Luke’s website (kudos to Nancy Troeger and her team).  The headlines included a story about the three seniors selected as National Merit Finalists and another about the Yale Dean of Admissions who will give a talk for St. Luke’s parents on May 7th.  I also attended conferences of national scope in the last month where St. Luke’s faculty led sessions on important topics.  At OESIS, Jon Shee, Matt Bavone and Michael Mitchell showed how they are using new thinking and tools to deepen students’ learning, and at NAIS Stephanie Bramlett presented on the reasons why PhD holders are increasingly finding independent school careers attractive.

These examples reflect great news in our School:  Students and faculty asserting and distinguishing themselves on the national stage for academic and professional excellence.

Of course we should celebrate and nurture these developments—but we must not forget our obligation to care for the social and emotional health of our students.  Producing moral, resilient, productive, and persistent graduates does not happen by prioritizing achievement over learning, accolades over effort, winning over goodness, metrics over the unmeasurable but essential daily work of building a healthy, inclusive community.

That is why I sought recently to engage fathers in a conversation about our role in the emotional health of our children.  That also is why we put such an emphasis on building an inclusive community—not to be politically correct but to help all students in both divisions become their best selves through deeper understanding, honest conversations, and the hard work of true collaboration.  And that is why we give students more relevant and purposeful learning experiences such as J-Term, the Hackathon, service learning, global partnerships, and portfolio-based courses such as Engineering—which seem to leave students feeling more joyful about their education, less anxious and depressed although they have worked every bit as hard, or harder.

It has been a very good year for St. Luke’s.  I feel so pleased with the spirit of wanting to be the best we can be, with the strengthening of people and program, and with the reputational excellence that continues to drive such strong interest in the School.  I also feel pleased that the social and emotional health of students continues to be a distinguishing hallmark of our school.  We do not have all the answers, nor can we claim a perfect record in helping every student lead a healthy life at St. Luke’s.  But we can claim to care, and to prioritize what’s best for kids in our curriculum development, hiring, and future thinking.  That’s what makes St. Luke’s a great school, and what makes it a place worthy of our committed service.